The curtain shielding Arkansas' football practice got pulled back a little on Saturday as the media got a look inside at how new Razorback head coach Bret Bielema and his staff run workouts in what was the sixth of 15 slotted for this spring.
Bielema considers himself a CEO – and that showed as he was making notes throughout Saturday's practice — and made it clear that the work starts way before the practice and even includes a portion where he spends time preparing by himself.
"I usually shut myself in my office about an hour before practice and write down what I want to see happen during different parts of practice," Bielema said. "That is kind of how I handle games, too. I hire coaches to be great coaches and I want them to be that. The things I address sound silly, but it's mouth pieces in, (chinstraps) buckled up, I address the penalty situation immediately.
"A coach that I really admire use to have something hanging on his wall that said 'praise loudly and criticize softly,'" Bielema added. "I really try to follow that as much as I can. I think I want kids to know that when I speak to them, it means something and is not just motormouth or diarrhea of the mouth. You want it to be sensitive to what we are going through."
One thing clear during the practice was that any player making a pre-snap penalty immediately sprinted off the field for a conversation with the head coach and an immediate consequence to his mistake.
"I want immediate access," Bielema said. "I have never raised any children, but I am sure you guys have immediate reaction to bad behavior. I just want those kids to know that if they have an error they should come out automatically. We won't do that in the foul, but I want it to be enforced in their thinking that there is going to be an automatic consequence if it is a pre-snap mistake."
Arkansas coaches and players met around 10 a.m to go over what they wanted to get across in Saturday's practice, which included a 70-plus play scrimmage.
"We met in this morning here at 10 o'clock and I explained to them that I want to play a physical style of football and it starts today," Bielema said. "...We hadn't pulled the pin and let everybody fly and run and today was part of that and I was very happy offensively and defensively about the way that transpired.
"I was happy with the way that we were hitting," Bielema added. "We did stress that for us to play good football in the fall we have to play well against each other, just no cheap stuff."
The new staff worked on first down plays, second down plays and third down plays of all yardages- regardless of how the previous play went during the scrimmage.
"It is the way I have always drilled it," Bielema said. "We believe in educating football players here, not just in the classroom, but on the field. One thing we have always practiced is first down. Offensively we want to gain four, defense you want to hold them to less than three. That's how our kids are wired and how they train.
"Today when we started practice, it was first down plays, then second down plays," Bielema said. "It's first down play no matter what happens. Second down no matter what happens. It's to train kids that on second down, we have to get half of that back. If it is an incomplete pass, we have to get it to at least third-and-5 so it is managable.
"The reason I group third down together like that – short, medium and long, 3rd-and-one and two, four and six, eight and 10 – I am just stressing the importance of knowing it's third down and what we want to do out on the field," Bielema said. "We try to use the scrimmage to go six-play sets."
One of the most important periods in practice according to Bielema is an inside drill meant to bring about toughness.
"One of the things we do - and it is one of the most important things that you will hear our kids talk about – is a inside drill that is strictly just run," Bielema added. "There is no passing in it. Offensively they know it, defensively they know it. It is the toughest and we want it to be the best 15 minutes of our practice."
Bielema's only other head coaching stop was at Wisconsin, where he was for seven years before taking the job at Arkansas.
He says the transition has gone well and expects it to get even better with Arkansas' new football center on the way.
"It has been overwhelming, but on the same account nothing but great surprises," Bielema said. "I really haven't had a negative experience since coming here. I know this – there are a lot of untapped resources with recruiting, this new building we are putting up...and what effect that has had on us in recruiting is off the charts. You can literally just see kids see themselves in those meeting rooms, in those locker rooms, in the training room. It is going to have a huge effect on our program."
Arkansas defensive line coach Charlie Partridge
Razorback running backs coach Joel Thomas
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